Fish Leaping, c.1960


Fish Leaping, side view, at North Haven cottage in Maine, made of sculpmetal, an experimental material. Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor c. 1960.

A beautiful sea creature, here created from the rich imagination of an artist. Its forked tailfin rises high above its head as it dives into the waves. Still swimming elegantly in the air with the narrow flexible body swishing from side to side, its spiny dorsal fin is raised like a sail with a scalloped edge, stabilizing it as it enters the water. The pectoral fins also provide stability, a flat trapezoidal shape of equal size and placement on both sides with the same scallop design repeated from the dorsal fin. The weight of the long graceful body is supported just under the gills on the equally graceful curves of the waves. The fork in the high caudal fin is mimicked by a fork formed between two low waves on the same side at the base of the composition. The whole piece is positioned in a metal collar, off center, yet perfectly balanced. It could spin beautifully if it were free to move on the round base.

Sculpmetal was an experimental clay material that could be used for sculpting. It was described as a sort of malleable metal that you could work with your hands, then polish to a metallic sheen when it dries. For Allen, it was an experiment in a new medium and the new modern style of the times, a brilliant look for the shining scales of this silver fish leaping above the waves.

Fish Leaping, front view, a modern design in sculpmetal, shows balance achieved off center on small base. F.W.Allen, Sculptor c. 1960.

It was a stylized version of a fish, not one that is of any known species. It perhaps comes close to the herring or mackerel that he caught in Bartlett’s Harbor and smoked in the brick smokehouse he had built by hand against a hill between his house and his North Haven studio. His daughter describes it: “It was small, much like a tall doghouse. He kept fires of alderwood, from up the road toward the mailboxes, smoldering for something like two to three days and nights, producing racks of delicious smoked herring and mackerel.” (From Memories of North Haven, 2012, by Barbara Allen Benton, p. 37)

Anatomically, one feature contributes to the design. There are two parallel ridges the whole length of the body, which add visual length to the actual length of the fish. The “lateral line” is an essential sensory organ that runs along the sides of a fish from the head to the base of the tail to detect movement in the water around it. Here Allen shows it almost as a superficial vein. It is actually a fluid-filled canal just under the skin, similar to a vein. Parallel to it and lower on the side is another ridge. There is no anatomical equivalent, but the line indicates the typical division of dark back scales from white belly scales, acting as camouflage against predators.

Kate Jennings writes to Agnes Allen from North Haven: “We have many pictures of the beautiful fish at home, so when we get back, I will mail you some. It looks so lovely on a ledge at the cottage and we have enormous pleasure from it. Sincerely yours, Kate Jennings.” Then again from her home on Long Island, NY: “Dear Mrs. Allen, Here are some pictures of the fish which I hope are what you want. He is really beautiful.”

PEGASUS II, c. 1960
Owned by Mrs. B.Brewster Jennings
Sculpmetal Imaginative study
No images or information other than a note by Elizabeth MacLean Smith, Allen’s assistant teacher.
“Pegasus II in sculpmetal is a late experiment with a new material as is the Fish.” (Smith)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *